The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Liberté, Égalité: Fauve Interviewed
Jeremy Allen , March 18th, 2015 08:10

The French collective talk to Jeremy Allen about the second part of their Vieux Frères album, playing venues across Paris and feeling the city's new positivité

"Fauve only has one voice through the music and lyrics, so everyone has to be 100% comfortable with what we're saying and what we're playing when the song is released."

When I first met Fauve a year ago I perhaps thought they were more agitprop than they are. The barrage of angry flow over dyspeptic urban rhythms can be easily misconstrued as the rantings of a politically disaffected white youth - especially if you don't know what the fuck they're saying. French isn't my first language, or my second either, so that was certainly the case with me at the time.

"The words in French, they're so trivial," they told me then. My second preconception, that they were going to be a po-faced bunch (probably because of the "one voice" thing which I'll explain more about in a minute), was wide of the mark too. "Honestly," they told me. "We just need to be able to sing and record and play live and deliver these inner monologues." It seemed this emotional bloodletting and lack of surety had more in common with the confessional singer-songwriters of the 1970s than with Crass or Public Enemy.

Disparaging of their own lyrics or not, the collective has certainly resonated with the French public, who think they're the cat's whiskers (Fauve insist they're a collective rather than a band, with a core of five members and about 20 to 25 on the periphery). Their album Vieux Frères comes to us in two parts. The first, released last February, went into the French charts at No 2, making them the biggest new artists in their native land. Last year they played a 20-show residency at the Bataclan in east Paris - a commodious old prog rock venue - and this month ahead of the release of Vieux Frères Partie II they've audaciously booked a tour of Paris that takes in all of its finest venues including, as la cerise sur le gâteau, one night at l'Olympia. Anyone who's anyone has played there, from Edith Piaf in the 40s to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin to Sam Smith and Benjamin Clementine later this year, among many, many others. Fauve could have feasibly appeared there last year but chose to spread their shows out at the smaller Bataclan so they could still see the whites of the fans' eyes. Now the time has finally come.  

"We have a special attachment to la Maroquinerie, la Flèche d'Or and le Bataclan where we played a lot of our earlier gigs," they say. "But the one we're most looking forward to is l'Olympia because our parents will be there. My grandparents are coming to see their grandson at l'Olympia because it's very prestigious. Everyone's played there from Gainsbourg to Brel to Aznavour…"

They add that playing right across Paris wasn't "a very smart thing to do financially" as they insisted ticket prices remain low for all shows - a top-price ticket to see Sylvie Vartan in April is an eye-watering 106€ whereas Fauve ask for a super-reasonable 26€.

As I talk to them again, at their practice space in the 13th arrondissement, they seem less concerned about revealing their identities than when I interviewed them last year. In the spirit of liberté, égalité, fraternité, Fauve say they speak as one voice in order not to let ego get in the way of "the project", and it does appear to be working thus far, even if it's slightly maddening to write it up that way. Though they call each other by their names in front of me this time, they ask me to respect this practice as before. If Fauve were as big as they are in France in the UK, I suggest, then they would have been outed long ago by the tabloid press. It transpires they have been, sort of…

"If you look hard enough you can trace us or identify us. We don't erase every trace, it's impossible, but the thing is that when they do find out our real identity it's like, 'Okay, he was a student before.' There's no big scoop, because if you can use Google, Wikipedia and Facebook, you can easily track down pictures of us, it's just not really that interesting. It's something that can be controlled at the beginning, but after a few months of pictures or videos going around the internet you can't really manage it. It's impossible to say, 'No, you have to take this down.' With Wikipedia, we tried asking them to take off our names and we had them removed them once but then they said it's public information. There's only so much you can do."

One more thing. The last time I interviewed Fauve we were joined towards the end by Q, and that happened again this time. I call him Q, and I hope I'm not breaking any code here, but he is the guy who spits the lyrics on their records. While the others I've met and chatted to (who remind me of likeable IT Crowd boffin types) are genuinely nice people to talk to, Q is certainly the charismatic one. His deportment, his attitude, his contribution to the interviews, all carry a little more swagger. When he arrives it makes you think of that line: "All men are equal, but some men are more equal than others." Perhaps that's only because of the egalitarian way the collective is set up - it almost forces you to think that. Like most French people I meet, Q claims to lack confidence in his ability to speak English while being perfectly fluent; his interjection towards the end is emotive and idealistic, a Trotsky standing out from his more pragmatic comrades. Such is life. I'll leave it to you to see whether you can spot the join or not.     

So there are five and soon to be six of you on stage, but there are 20 to 25 in the collective. How come?

F: In the collective people have different talents - for instance, I suck at imaging and design but some people are really good at it - so it often happens organically. Some people will say we need to do something, and someone will say, "Sure, I can do that."

Do you have a pay structure with all these people working for you? It's a crass thing to ask maybe, but I'm presuming people get paid at different levels?

F: It's always different levels. We have the five founding members - the hardcore of the collective - and we're always on stage. We write the songs, we record them, so that's basically the heart of the collective. And then you have small teams, image, photo, lights, that gravitate around the hardcore of the collective. Some work outside of Fauve and they help us out from time to time selling merchandise and T-shirts, and we don't necessarily pay them for that though sometimes we do. We have a woman who is a graphic designer and that's her real work outside of Fauve, so when she takes three weeks off from her real work, that's three weeks salary we'll pay her. We try to maintain a balance so people keep contributing and participating in the program.

When I met you last time you'd just started writing this album. You were all excited because so much had happened in your lives since the writing of the first part of the record. Would you say this second part is a more broadly positive album than the last one?

F: Yes. Absolutely.

There are love songs, aren't there?

F: Yeah, there are love songs, but I think there were love songs before. The main perception of the first part was very negative and the tone was very angry; it was mostly dark. The feedback we're getting from people like yourself who've heard the album before everyone else is that we've found a bit more peace with what has happened to us and the impact it has had on our lives. The first thing we were looking for when we started Fauve was to escape the routine that was going on in our lives in Paris. We just wanted to go to the rest of France and to Belgium and Switzerland and play our songs with the lyrics we'd written for them. I think that's a feeling you get from the album, something much more positive and more at peace.

There's the song ‘Les Hautes Lumières', that's definitely a love song isn't it?

F: Yeah, it's a love song. Did you see the clip? We came up with a clip and we actually had the idea for the first time to shoot a couple very much in love and affectionate; it was something that we'd never done before, something positive and luminous. It's a very positive love song, yeah.

That's the one song on the album with singing on it. Do you always have to have one song with singing on it, the way The Beatles always gave one song to Ringo…

F: I don't think it's deliberate, we never planned or calculated it. We have one song called ‘Azulejos' that's only voice - we'd written it with music behind it but then we decided to take away all of the instrumentation as it felt more dramatic, it felt right and natural. It was very natural for us to sing on 'Les Hautes Lumières'. The act of singing rather than speaking was the decision we took very early in the project, that singing would be the best way to deliver the words we'd written, but we never said we couldn't sing. There's another one called 'Paraffine' where there's singing on the bridge, and when we do it live we extend that section so there's more singing.

The first song ‘Juillet' features the date 5 July. Was that just picked out of the air?

F: It was written in the month of July, and we [firstly] called it July 1998 because that was a very special summer for most people in France, but I think especially for us because we were 12 at the time, and it was just a feeling we had then that we felt again last year during the month of July. In 98 there was also all this Californian-influenced French rap music around, very West Side, like Doc Gynéco and Passi, and also the World Cup took place at home and we won. So it was something that stuck in our heads.

It seems to be like a narrative about walking around Paris, a snapshot even. The bars, the heat, the melting pot of city life…

F: That's why you have the crescendo at the beginning with lots of sounds from the streets. It's a very strange feeling when you're walking around Paris in the summertime, it gets very hot and sweaty, you have lots of people in the street, you go to some neighbourhoods in the north of Paris and sometimes it's very African and exotic.

You talk about 1998 as a great year for rap. Do you know the French rap collective 1995, who based their name on the fact that 1995 was indeed a good year for hip hop as they saw it?

F: Yeah, we know them.

Did you know about their beef with Charlie Hebdo? One of the collective Nekfeu apparently spat a line about wanting "a bonfire for those dogs Charlie Hebdo" causing a bit of a media fuss.

F: Just because they had disagreements, there was no hate from Nekfeu, and they couldn't have foreseen what would happen. Before the event they argued but after the event they issued an official apology.

I guess the album was done and dusted ahead of that terrible week with the shootings. Would you have written about that if you'd still been writing the album?

F: I'm not sure if we would, because it's not something we do. Maybe we would've written something about terrorism more generally. Or maybe if someone directly connected to us was directly affected, but we don't really think it's Fauve's role to talk about Charlie Hebdo if we weren't affected directly. We all went walking on the march on the Sunday but all as people and not as Fauve. We posted a quote on Facebook to show solidarity but we didn't change our profile picture to Je Suis Charlie. We supported the walk in Paris at Place de la République, but I don't think we would write a song about it. We write songs that are common to all of us but with political events we might all react in a different way, and we'd have to argue before we could agree on what to do about it.

A lot of bands are drawn together because of their political convictions…

F: I think politics is difficult because we all have different political opinions. I wouldn't say we were very political, it's not what we do. I respect bands who do, but it's not really what we do and never has been.

So you have communists and fascists in the band?

F: I don't think it's that extreme, but we do have a whole spectrum.

So your music is visceral, emotional, personal? It's about the human condition as you see it and nothing external?

F: It's more about personal experience, feelings, relationships between people. It's more like observations - a chronicle. It's information, and then people can do what they want with it. We describe the way we feel and if people want to make their own conclusions they can take it whichever way they want to. In no way are we going to pretend to know what's best for the world.

Were you shocked by the shootings?

F: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think we were all together when we heard about it. We were working on the editing of a video and then we took lunch. One of us got a notification from Le Monde or something and we were like, "Seriously?" We went to a restaurant for lunch, the waitress was talking about it, and we were like, "Okay, this is real." Absolutely crazy. The following day we were watching the news in between rehearsing. There was that story and then there was another story, and then there was the march at République… for a week it was pretty shocking.

And then you attended the march with 3.7 million people across France…

F: It was very surprising for there to be that many people going in the same direction for once in France, it was practically historical. It was a very peculiar week.

I thought the way the city responded was amazing and very grown-up. There are a lot of divisive voices talking about racial tension that maybe I don't see or notice…

F: "Unity isn't going to last, blah blah blah…" I don't think so.

You don't think what?

F: I think it has changed something. You cannot forget that, the gathering and the march.

You think in a positive or negative way?

F: Definitely in a positive way. That really moved us actually. We feel when we're playing concerts that there is a real change - everybody is united - the opposite of malevolent. When we're on stage if feels like everyone is happy to be there and we're happy and everyone seems to be taking care of each other. In the audience there are no fights or anything, it's just really positive, even if nobody knows each other. It's what we experience every time we play a gig now, and for us, we came out of this with a new perspective. I know the people who come to Fauve concerts aren't from every social class, you know - I don't know if people from La Courneuve come to our shows - but still it's a wide spectrum of people of our age in this country. Everyone's saying French people are depressed and everybody hates each other, but it's not what we see. We think it's wrong actually, it's false. And when we went to the march it was kind of the same feeling, a good feeling.

The French are more united than they think are.

F: Exactly. That's exactly what I want to say actually. The atmosphere at Fauve concerts for us is just surreal most of the time now. Just wow. It's not just a good gig - something's changed.